Poetry and Photography

Poetry Magazine, May 2013 – Light Speaking

The best part of Poetry Magazine is often the prose part at the end. This article is a case in point.

I grew up with Photography – my father ran a photography studio in Ft. Madison, Iowa in the Fifties – as I relate in Black and White Studio Photography.

As Wright Morris puts it, the photo

authenticates, for us, time’s existence. Not the ruin of time, nor the crowded tombs of time, but the eternal present in time’s every moment. From this continuous film of time the camera snips the living tissue.

This, I believe, is why we surround ourselves with photos: they’re so loaded with time that we must domesticate them, and thereby render them mundane, or we’ll be crushed.

I never thought of it this way before – but now that I have, it seems obvious.

You can read the rest of the article for yourself. I hope that you – like me – have realized that your life has been a complete failure.

And you now have time to do as you please what what is left.

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Who We Are and What We Are

These are two different things – which we sometimes discover to our amazement. Who we are is a human being, our amazing genetic inheritance as a unique species. What we are, on the other hand. depends on where we – what situation we are in, and it varies as our situation varies.

We would like to think that who we are also includes our individuality – the personality we develop as we grown up – and that only changes slowly. But this concept is much more difficult to work with – even though we have to deal with it in ourselves, and others all the time.

We can never be sure whether we are dealing with who are – or what we are. People, individually or collectively, can change suddenly without warning. We are very undependable beings – contrary to what we think of ourselves.

We have to give up the exalted view of ourselves ( being a little lower than the angels) – and face the facts. This is not nearly as difficult as we seem to feel. But we would rather die than change.

What I have said so far is easy. No comes the hard part. Where did this defective view of ourselves come from?

I think is is the unlikely combination of two things – Religion (as it is embodied in Business) and Science (as it is embodied in Technology). Note the key word here embodied. I will not try to explain it – I will assume its meaning is obvious.

Technology can always be improved – and we have assumed from that, since we are so closely associated with our technologies that we can always be improved too. This is not rocket science, just common sense – it seems to us.

But it contains a fundamental error – our technology is part of what we are. But it is not who we are (humans).

In fact, as techno-beings we have rejected ourselves as human beings. To use plain language, we have become monsters (or demons). And we consider this a vast improvement.

Because, thanks to Business, we have become rich monsters.

Being an Idiot is not Smart

I had a long telephone conversation recently with my best friend from High School (1950-1954). I was one of the persons responsible for his getting a computer a couple of years ago. I almost wish I hadn’t.

If you depend on a computer (as most of us do) you must know something about it. Otherwise, your computer is quickly taken over by God-knows-what.

Being computer-literate is not too hard – but it does take some work – and the determination to not be an idiot. To my amazement, this is what most people seem determined to be. Because this is what they are supposed to be.

I have another friend down here in Costa Rica, a young man, who works for a call center, providing technical support (in English) for a tablet sold by an American company. (This is not uncommon, since people are so much cheaper down here.)  He hates his job (with a passion) because the people who call for support are so stupid.

What can I tell him? That he is stupid too – to not realize this?

I stay computer-literate partly by subscribing to various newsletters. Today I got this Understanding SOAP and REST Basics. This is excellent! But you have to be determined to not be an idiot.

The Destruction of Time and Space

This was one of the most damaging results of the technological innovations in the middle of the 19th Century – the invention of Electricity and of the Telegraph. As soon as Telegraph lines were built across America, and then across the Atlantic Ocean, which didn’t take long, our world was changed forever. News, which included photographs, could now sent instantly – instead of taking months.

This was seen as a tremendous advantage – and no thought was given to its disadvantages – which are simple enough for us now – after Einstein and his Relativity showed that Time and Space were really part of the same thing. This was the world our species had evolved in, and the only one we could understand and function comfortably in.

The result drove us crazy. Beginning in America with its Civil War – and in the rest of the World, with WWI. We knew something was wrong, but didn’t know quite what. So, naturally enough, we assumed some evil forces were out to get us – and went to war in an attempt to destroy them. Which did nothing but destroy the Modern World we had worked so hard to build.

You will, no doubt, object that this is a superficial analysis – which it is. What happened was a complex situation – where many interacting forces were at work. But it is useful to look at some of the biggest forces in this complex. Such as the one I am writing about here – a theory not my own at all. But one that has not been taken seriously enough.

This was such a shocking change (to our unconscious minds – our bodies, that is) that we could not cope with it – and could only deny its damage.

Philosophy such as this online course, overlooks this entirely.

And so does everyone else.

The Price of Progress

Progress has made far more demands on us than it has ever given us. I am not a Luddite, demanding the abolition of Progress – but an old man, surveying the wreckage of his life and that of his people – wishing it could have been better – that we could have been more careful in our headlong rush to the future – where we gave everything and got little in return.

I can remember America in the Fifties where prosperity was taken for granted. But instead of keeping this, we threw it away for nothing. And we were helpless to do otherwise. Forces we had not the slightest knowledge of were in control instead. Including the blind belief in Progress.

We though this would make us all-powerful – when all it did was drain us of our power – literally, by wasting all our oil – and building more and more cars that ended up in in our junkyards.

In retrospect, we can see how this happened – and how we were powerless to stop it, because of our infatuation with the Automobile. We had to keep having bigger and better ones – after all, that was Progress! We could not look at this rationally, and analyze how much the Automobile was costing us – and what we were getting from it. Instead, we rushed on, never thinking of where we were going.

All this was largely covered up by the Cold War – an overriding preoccupation that ended up destroying America instead. This too, was considered Progress!

In summary – Progress became destructive, the opposite of what it was supposed to be – and no one noticed. This was the most amazing thing of all – nobody noticed!

The reason for this, it seems to me, is so simple it is unbelievable – people no longer existed, as people! We have no words to express what we have become – but we can clearly see what we have become everywhere in America – and more and more all over the world.

We can see this, but this perception leaves us speechless. Our minds – the language-based part of our minds, that is – is powerless to comprehend this. Even though the rest of our minds (the right-brain) can see it easily. This has been covered, quite well, in The Master and his Emissary – which I probably should read again.

But as I recall, Iain McGilchrist does not describe the impact of Technology as well as Lewis Mumford does in his books. And even he does not cover the impact of Television as well as Neil Postman. Who does not understand the impact of the Computer at all.

At one stroke, the Computer has dragged us out of Industrialization into something we do not understand in the least – but do have a word for – Globalization. Which is nothing but shorthand for total disaster. Industry did provide employment, but the Computer needs few people – and then only very specialized ones.

Naturally, we do not want to see this – and therefore do not.

The American Ruling Class

These people do exist, and they are stronger than ever. But America’s attitude towards them is hard to decipher. Their first response, as usual, is simply denial. Americans deny that reality really exists. And a denial of their power structure is part of that pattern. They conform to it automatically and unconsciously while consciously denying its existence.

They are also helpless, and declare that, whatever it is, they can do nothing about it. They had nothing to do with its formation and cannot be held responsible for its behavior (which is  not entirely true). To repeat, there are two interacting forces in this complex – denial and helplessness.

But instead of feeling ashamed of themselves, they are proud they have come up with such a perfect solution. They have decided not to live in a defective reality, but to live in perfect world of their own making instead.

But I see I have gotten of the track – I started to write about their ruling class.

A short historical review is in order here, but I will limit myself to the American history I experienced – beginning when I was an adolescent, in the Fifties. The first obsession for all high-school graduates was simple – to get a good job. And that meant first of all going to college, getting a profession, and then working for an organization. I went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration as an engineer, and my siblings when to work as schoolteachers.

We expected to work for one organization all our lives, work our way up in it, and then retire from it. The organization was supposed to provide for us, and to make life comfortable for the large middle class, of which we were a part. But things did not work out that way.

What happened instead is hard to describe, but I will try anyway. Back in my Father’s day, there were large, stable companies who hired most of the people. In my Father’s home town of Ft. Madison, Iowa, the West End was dominated by the Santa Fe Railroad. And the East End by the Sheaffer Pen Company. And there were many, many small businesses, such a the photography studio owned by my Father. The family farm was still important in rural areas.

There was a large layer of middle managers, or the bosses, as they were known, in any company, and they were the ones who actually ran the place. They were well-paid, and anyone could aspire to one of these positions. Or, if you were more independent, to be a successful small businessman. The demands in either case were not severe, and anyone could look forward to an pleasant, affluent life.

But slowly all this changed. American society lost its focus on the successful individual, and focused instead on a successful techno-structure – where only a few at the very top benefited. I have invented a new word here techno-structure – quite to my own surprise. Let me work on it for awhile.

Successful technologies have always produced new societies – this what civilization amounted to. A new kind of people appeared, and a new kind of person, that never existed before. This resulted, over the next thousand years or so, in the Roman Empire. Which resulted, in turn, in its collapse, the Middle Ages, and then the Modern World – and then its collapse into what something we now the Post-Modern World – for the lack of a better term.

In every case there was a ruling class, as there always is – although in times of fast change (such as the present) they come and go so fast, they are hard to keep track off. Now I have finished my very short history of the world, I will return to the present.

What has happened in the last fifty years or so? What I call the techno-structure has taken over. In an eerie way, our technology has taken control of us. Although to be more correct – we have merged with it and the resulting complex has taken over.

This brings up the all-important idea of a complex – something that most people, including many scientists, have a hard time getting their minds around. The facts are simple – in most situations, lots of variables interact with lots of other variables to affect how everything works. We no longer have a  simple cause-and-effect situation. This was only an illusion – one that served us well, it is true, but also left us with a mess we do not know how to deal with.

This includes a shadowy new ruling class who clearly exist somehow, but just how, we are not sure. They are part of the Global Economy – which we do not understand either. We are on automatic pilot, with unknown forces at the controls.

Let me give a concrete example. I live in rural Costa Rica, and coffee farms dominate the landscape. But more and more communication towers also dominate it. Why? Because Ticos have become obsessed with their cell phones, and all kinds of foreign companies are rushing in to profit from this.

What dominates these companies? The combination of an ruling elite and their technologies. The same as in the USA, whose popular culture (and business culture) they identify with.

Open Source Software and Jobs

Does Free Software cost jobs?

Why free software is not a job killer

This is really a continuation of my posting Making Jobs. This seems to be a hot subject, with lots of action in it. I would dearly love to have some technical readers to help me with this. If you are out there, please speak up!

Unfortunately, technical people with social skills (such as the authors of these articles) are rare. I can only summarize by saying what I have said before – that high-tech does not necessarily benefit society – and this is probably an understatement.